The Templeton Twins Have an Idea, Book 1
By Ellis Weiner, illustrations by Jeremy Holmes
Chronicle Books, $17, ages 8–12
Tragic events and malicious schemers stand in the way of John and Abigail Templeton, who merely want to take care of their brilliant professor father and enjoy their respective hobbies: cryptic crosswords and drum kits. As with the Unfortunate tales of Violet, Klaus and Sunny, the story is delivered with commentary courtesy of a know-it-all narrator who interrogates and even mocks the reader. Despite interrupting each chapter with a series of sarcastic “questions for review,” the narrator’s antics are one of the book’s great charms. By the end of the tale, you’ll even discover his prized meatloaf recipe.
By Jeff Mack
Philomel Books, $13, ages 7–10
Fifth grader PJ McGee fancies himself a private eye, but he may be a bit more ordinary than he realizes. Video games, as he finds out the hard way, are not the best way to learn ninja moves. Handmade business cards, meanwhile, don’t often impress potential clients. His delusions of grandeur, however, are heartfelt—he’s just trying to impress his absent father with illustrated accounts of his exploits. While PJ may miss more clues than he finds, his good intentions still contribute to him solving problems, like when he helps the class bully dodge a fraudulent charge of filling a school tuba with gooey mac-and-cheese. Throughout his journaling, PJ’s writing is authentically childish, with keen and hilarious observations adults are too polite to make.
The Books of Beginning: The Emerald Atlas, Book 1 and The Fire Chronicle, Book 2
By John Stephens
Yearling Fantasy, $18 hardcover/$8 paper, ages 10–14
The sorrow inside an orphanage builds one empty day after another. Siblings Kate, Michael and Emma have spent ten years in a run of such dreary facilities—but their newest home is a bit different. For starters, they are the only orphans. More important, the food is finally good. Soon they explore their new house and discover strange signs. Over the course of two books that manage to be both epic and funny, this saga blossoms into an adventure spanning different eras and worlds—divided into those with magic and those without—all without losing focus on the children whose destinies are tangled in the conflict.
The Divergent Trilogy: Divergent, Book 1 and Insurgent, Book 2
By Veronica Roth
Katherine Tegen Books, $20 hardcover/$10 paper, ages 12–16
In a future Chicago, only the skyscrapers and El tracks remain. The city’s social fabric is divided into five tribes who live apart, based on their values: Candor, Erudite, Amity, Dauntless and Abnegation. (Fortunately, the book provides enough context clues regarding each clan’s character to prevent readers from needing to download a dictionary app.) But not everyone fits so neatly into one camp—including the protagonist, Tris, who’s equally suited for three. What seems like a blessing becomes a curse when she is forced to choose. Part survival tale and part dystopia, the trilogy focuses on the conflict between individuality and the greater good, which should resonate with teens.
By T.M. GoegleinPutnam, $18, ages 12–16
Sara Jane Rispoli isn’t well-mannered like Nancy Drew, but she has her reasons. Her parents and little brother have disappeared; meanwhile, her uncle is possibly involved with the mob. Local author Goeglein tells this fast-paced story in the manic journaling of a 16-year-old in crisis. As she hunts for the truth, visiting familiar Chicago landmarks along the way, Sara herself becomes the hunted. Assassins, corrupt cops and a ward’s worth of unsavory villains hound her across our town. Despite the pressure and the danger, Sara’s voice never becomes that of a generic hero confidently assured of success—she is, through and through, a Chicago teenager in deep over her head.